1 571 Logan Street, Denver, Colorado week online.com Vol. 09 no. 44 $6 october 31, 2011 Their Turn To Talk Law Week Colorado complements its quarterly Managing Partner Roundtable by inviting law firm associates to the table. Happily, all have jobs, and all seem content in them. But they have lessons to share about their experiences in finding jobs, their career aspirations and their legal educations. Pictured standing from left are Jamie Rutten, Donelson Ciancio & Goodwin; Matt Ellsworth, Sheridan Ross; and Jonathan Thompson, Faegre & Benson; seated left is Heather Joyce, Jackson Kelly; and Kimberly Frederick, Davis Graham & Stubbs. Law week PHotoS GABRIEL CHRISTUS
2 With all of the ups and downs in the economy, it s been difficult for many new attorneys to find gainful employment. All of the associates that joined Law Week for its Associate Roundtable knew people who had struggled or were still struggling to find a job, but each of them was lucky. Each of them was enthusiastic about the practice of law, their firms and their experience thus far, but they also shared some tips for what they think should change. The participants were Matt Ellsworth, a second year associate with Sheridan Ross; Kimberly Frederick, a seventh year associate with Davis Graham & Stubbs; Heather Joyce, a second year associate with Jackson Kelly; Jamie Rutten, a third year associate with Donelson Ciancio & Goodwin; and Jonathan Thompson, a third year associate with Faegre & Benson. Teresa Coogle, a registered professional court reporter for Hunter + Geist, recorded the session, which was held at the Warwick Denver Hotel at 1776 Grant St. Meg Satrom, managing editor of Law Week Colorado moderated the session. LAW WEEK: Thank you everyone for coming and thank you to the Warwick Hotel for hosting and to Hunter + Geist for transcribing. We ll start with introductions so everyone can say where they went to law school, where you work, what year associate you are, what your practice is, and a little bit about yourself. JOYCE: My name is Heather Joyce. I am a second year associate at Jackson Kelly. I focus, recently, in the government affairs practice group. I still do some commercial litigation. And I ve started to do some water law. I m from Denver, Colo., originally. ELLSWORTH: Matt Ellsworth. I work at Sheridan Ross, and I don t know if I classify myself as a first year or second year I ve been at Sheridan Ross for six and a half years. I worked there as a patent agent before graduating law school. It s a change in title, but I ve sat in the same office and have done, primarily, the same stuff for six and a half years, which is mostly patent transactional work. I have twins and a toddler. And work and kids and family keep me busy. THOMPSON: I m Jonathan Thompson. I m at Faegre & Benson. I focus two thirds of my practice in business litigation and a third in the natural resource area, including doing title work for oil and gas matters. I m finishing my second, going into my third year next month, after finishing a successful stint in business. I have three boys who are now 10, 9, and 7. And I love getting out and hiking and doing outdoor things with them. FREDERICK: My name is Kim Frederick. I am a seventh year associate at Davis Graham & Stubbs. I m in our trial group. I ve worked on litigation in securities, product liability, construction, and, most recently, environmental litigation. I went to George Washington University for law school in D.C. and started my career at a large firm in New York City. I moved out here about a year and a half ago and started at Davis, Graham & Stubbs. RUTTEN: My name is Jamie Rutten. I am a third year associate at Donelson Ciancio & Goodwin, and I practice, primarily, family law. I started off doing criminal law and moved into family law, and I ve been doing family law for about two and a half years now. I went to the University of North Dakota. I m from Colorado. I did my undergrad at Colorado State University. I ve lived in Colorado pretty much my whole life. I m glad to be back. I have a husband and three dogs. LAW WEEK: So the first question is about how you found your jobs. A lot of graduates are struggling to find the traditional path of getting hired straight out of law school. It s not happening as frequently. So, Jamie, how did you find Donelson Ciancio? jonathan thompson RUTTEN: I clerked in North Dakota between my first and second year. Between my second and third year, I knew I needed to get back here so that I could get my foot in the door somewhere, get some connections in Colorado. So I looked at a lot of different places. I knew I wanted to live in the Adams County area. So, I started doing some research. And I found Gene Ciancio and Cindy Ciancio. I called them up and said, I need a summer clerk job. Do you have anything available? They had me come in and interview over Christmas break. We hit it off. It was absolutely perfect. I came back after taking the bar, I worked for them before I found my results out and started working for them after I got done. It was perfect. LAW WEEK: Kim, I think your experience is a little bit different. You moved here after working a few years on the East coast. What has your experience been as an out-of-state associate moving to Denver? FREDERICK: I started my career in New York. I interviewed with a firm during the summer of my first year. And then spent my second year summer in their intern program. Then I worked there for approximately five and a half years. I very much enjoyed it. During that time, my family moved out to Parker, Colo. So, I started looking in the Denver market. It was a perfect fit to move to a city where I could continue a vibrant practice of law, but also be near my family, which is something that I hadn t had the opportunity to do before. I had heard that it was difficult to get into the Denver market sometimes if you re not from the area or you don t have a connection to the area. Luckily, one of the partners I worked with in New York had a friend at Davis Graham. They weren t hiring at that point, so we just talked. Then when Davis Graham did have a position come open, I submitted my materials directly to the firm and went and interviewed. After meeting the people at the firm, I realized that this was a great fit; that they are not only people that do great law, but they are great people. A big thing that I ve noticed is that firms seem to be looking for more senior attorneys and younger attorneys may be having a more difficult time because firms benefit from those who are previously trained. LAW WEEK: Jonathan, you had a traditional experience as far as doing on campus interviews and finding your position through them. Will you talk about how you knew it was the right fit and what you thought about other avenues? THOMPSON: I come from a very successful business background. In fact, in the company that I left, I was responsible for about $120 million in annual revenue. I had a very thriving career but found myself interested in legal issues that continued to arise. So I decided to move to Denver and go to law school, because I loved the area. Having been in the business world, I ve been around a lot of people, including people that have intriguing, yet challenging careers. And I found that useful as I was doing on-campus interviewing. I found some people that were very interesting and dynamic, and I focused my efforts with firms that had those types of people, knowing that s ultimately the sort of environment that I wanted to be in. And that s how I found Faegre & Benson, and it s been a great fit. ELLSWORTH: Patent law was something that interested me enough that I was prompted to take the patent bar on my own accord. I took it, passed it and then found it very hard to find someone who would give a job to a newly minted patent agent that has no training. I was doing my graduate degree at the School of Mines at the time, and I thought there had to be some alumni in town. I just looked up in the alumni bulletin to see what cross-section of alumni was also practicing law here in town. A handful of firms have maybe 10 to 15 School of Mines alumni practicing various aspects of law, but there are, maybe, eight or nine other firms that do patent law. So I found them. I found the partners, the people to get in contact with, and I sent them a letter. Then I called them a week later. Everyone politely said, No, thank you. So I applied for and got a job at the patent and trademark office [in Washington D.C.]. I applied, went out and interviewed, signed all of the paperwork, picked out an apartment, and we were ready to move. Then I got a call from Sheridan Ross where there are a couple of School of Mines
3 alumni. And they said, Hey, we were finally able to look at this. Would you mind coming in? And the rest is history. JOYCE: Like Jonathan, I arrived at Jackson Kelly as a summer associate. I wasn t planning on doing on campus interviewing but when spring came around, I thought, It s time to look for a job. I was still not sure what I wanted to do, but any experience is good experience. I looked up a couple of the firms doing on campus interviews, and I researched Jackson Kelly. It seemed like the office in Denver had really vibrant women. I wanted to interview with them, and I wanted to work with them. I came in as a summer associate, and I ve been there ever since. LAW WEEK: The next question is about how you would assess your law school education. People thinking about going to law school have asked me whether I would recommend it not. What would you say or what have you told people asking that question? THOMPSON: I would say Go to law school if it s what you really want to do. If you re trying to figure out your life and don t know what you want to do, don t bother, because it s a very challenging environment. It s a very demanding profession, so it s not a fallback position. My law school experience was very challenging and great. I initially thought that I might be a transactional attorney and was headed that direction at my firm when I was a summer associate. And then when the downfall in the economy happened, I jamie rutten saw an opportunity to change what I do. I was able to transform my course work into a very hands on, practical sort of experience where I got to learn from a sitting Colorado Supreme Court justice, a state district court judge, and a former prestigious New York litigator. It was an excellent experience for me to learn from the best mentors. RUTTEN: I had a lot of preconceived notions about going to the University of North Dakota. I thought, I m going to be with a bunch of very interesting folks that I ve never been around before, but I m never going to find a job. I have to say though, that I thought law school was one of the most phenomenal experiences of my life, really. It was a small school. I felt like I got an absolutely fantastic legal education. I came out of there prepared to do my first year of clerkship. Our Numbers Tell the Story. 20 BEST LAWYERS IN AMERICA 12 SUPER LAWYERS COUNTRIES IN WHICH WE HAVE SERVED CLIENTS 1 ONE FOCUS: YOUR BUSINESS 85 + COLORADO ATTORNEYS 15 RANKED IN CHAMBERS USA 5 RISING STARS With more than 85 lawyers in our Denver and Boulder offices, we collaborate with clients worldwide to handle the full range of business issues, transactions, and litigation. The result? More Together faegre.com For more information, please contact Linda L. Rockwood at USA UK China
4 I knew how to do brief writing. I knew how to do everything a young lawyer should know how to do. So I couldn t have been more excited about going to North Dakota. It takes a certain kind of person to go to law school. It s difficult. It s a lot of work. And if you don t know for sure that that s what you want to be doing, and you re just going, because you don t want to go to business school, or you don t want to go get a Ph.D., then you might want to rethink it. But it is one of the most rewarding things you can do if you re looking for a job where you re going to be helping people. JOYCE: My first month of law school was horrifying, as it was for most. So were the weeks after graduation studying for the bar. I don t think any attorney ever forgets that. I don t have a bad experience, though, from law school. I thought it was very positive. It was reaffirming to me every time that I struggled and overcame a struggle and succeeded. I really appreciate that it taught me a new way to think about the world. I didn t take practical classes while I was at DU. While I would have taken more of them, I focused on research and writing classes. I focused on topical classes that just interested me, like oil and gas law and natural resource law. That, in and of itself, makes it a very rewarding experience for someone who wants to go learn about the world. I would recommend law school with qualifications. The main qualification being there s no substitute for real world experience. What a legal education has taught me is that the law is everywhere. So, if you have more of a perspective on the world, you ll be able to get more out of a legal education. The other qualification would be consider the price, because it is very expensive. And it s something that will stick with most of us for a long time. Law week: Kim, what was it like going to a law school on the East Coast? And have you noticed any difference in cultures coming West? FREDERICK: One nice thing about George matt ellsworth kimberly frederick Washington University is that it had an incredibly diverse student body. We were divided into about four sections of about 100 students each. I don t think it was a competitive environment for the most part. I think you choose the people you surround yourself with. You choose how you study. I met some of my best friends who I will be friends with forever. You learn how to navigate people and work with people, even people very different from you, or sometimes people who are not the most cooperative. I was very lucky that I worked at the New York office of King & Spalding. Going to a smaller office was fantastic. There was a fantastic environment where I would say Go to law school if it s what you really want to do. If you re trying to figure out your life and don t know what you want to do, don t bother, because it s a very challenging environment. Jonathan Thompson the associates helped each other. Even though you re working hard, if I ended up having to work the weekend, and I had family coming in, I had other associates volunteer to do it so I could see my family. I stayed at that firm so long because of the tight knit relationships. Those were the type of relationships I was looking for when I came to Davis Graham. The people you work with are more than just people you see at work. The amount of time you spend with them makes a big impact on your life in general. I ve been very lucky in both of my jobs to find a place where I enjoy coming to work. The one thing I would add about whether to go to law school is that the financial part of it has become even a bigger deal. When I went to law school, I had to make a very big decision about whether I was comfortable taking on this amount of debt. I paid for law school with some scholarships and then loans. It s a lot of money. ELLSWORTH: I would say I had a different approach because one of the decisions my wife and I had to make before law school was whether I stopped working or kept working and did the evening program. I got into schools that offered both, so we had those options. I ended up going with the night program. That was the best thing I could have done. The personalities and the people that I met in the night class were a lot more collegial. Everybody had already worked a full day. And it was Let s just get this done together. I don t need to hide the ball from you, you don t need to hide the ball from me. I m too tired to waste my energy on that. It was a really cooperative environment. I gained a lot out of that. My point of comparison is that as it went on, I did take some day classes. I noticed a more competitive environment and it was a little foreign to me. I had the luxury of choosing classes that interested me because the subject matter interested me. I got a lot more out of school because of that. That is something I d recommend to students, whether they are in law school already or going to law school: take classes that interest you, because you don t know what you re going to be practicing five years or even right when you get out. Even then, if you take all of the classes
5 heather joyce surrounding what you think you re going to practice, they are not going to cover all of the aspects of what you need to know. You re going to have to learn on the job. It s an apprenticeship. The advice I always give to people before they go to law school is that this is not something you do as a recreational thing. It s really hard. And it was harder for me just because I came from a background in engineering where it s black and white, right and wrong answers. It s a hard thing to wrap your head around, as an engineer, there s a whole world of gray. Law school taught me how to navigate the gray. That s where I m intellectually stimulated, and that s where the challenge is as attorneys. That s why we re all employed, because there is so much gray. It s something I enjoy now, and that s something I thrive on. With the right attitude, law school can be good. But just don t go do it because it s the next thing you think you should do. And commit yourself to do the best you can. FREDERICK: I didn t go to DU, but I am involved with the mentoring first year program with their law school. That is a phenomenal program. I had not heard of a program before where you get a student and you work with them throughout the year. And to give a student that type of insight into one, the legal community, where you can start networking already, but, two, to get the chance to see what it s really like is phenomenal. I didn t really know a lot of lawyers. I didn t have any lawyers in my family growing up. Your law school prepares you intellectually. Like I ve heard them say, It teaches you how to think. But you show up on the job, and there s all of these things that no one ever told you about. Just learning how to navigate the offices and how different programs work and how to be a lawyer is really important. That s a great program that other schools should jump on just to make getting involved in the community important from the first year, especially in this economy. LAW WEEK: Well that brings up an interesting point. The move in some law schools is to create more practical experiences. Would anyone like to speak to wishing they had more practical experience and/or feeling like they didn t get the right amount of practical experience while in school? ELLSWORTH: Almost all of Europe practices law where you have one year of study and two or three years of apprenticeship. It s interesting to get the perspective of attorneys who have done something like that. It s valuable experience. But one thing you might miss out on is the ability to find your calling, because you might get pigeonholed earlier before you get the full breadth of options. So that can be a downside. FREDERICK: There should be much more practical training. For example, I did not appreciate at the time I left law school what an advantage it would be to clerk. And I didn t clerk. It s something that I wish I would have done, because I was lucky to have some great mentors and great teachers. And I still have that today, which has helped me overcome that. But to have clerked or even taken more of the classes that I took in law school, like pretrial advocacy, would be great. Had I not taken those skill classes, I wouldn t know about local rules or federal rules or all of these different things that people think you should know when you graduate. It s amazing to think you can graduate law school and not learn how to run a case. There should be some kind of track where if you re interested in corporate crafting, if you re interested in litigation, or just basic skills, you can find them. RUTTEN: I totally agree. A lot of the people I went to work with went to DU, and they talk a lot about their clinics and things like that. That was a lot different from where I went to school. They were just starting a clinic program when I was in school there. So I didn t participate. I did a lot of review and moot court, and things like that. So when I say I came out ready to write a brief, that s because I was a nerd, and I stuck to the books and that s what I did. I wrote, and I researched. I felt prepared in that way to come out and write. But I can remember Halloween my first year out of law school, when I went to a criminal hearing with one of the criminal attorneys in my office, and I thought I was just going to observe. He was kind enough to say, No, you re going to go do it. Just go. Criminal hearings can be very quick, and you re up there for two seconds. I was so nervous. I didn t even know how to enter my appearance. I said, What do I do when I get up there? The people you work with are more than just people you see at work. The amount of time you spend with them makes a big impact on your life in general. Kim Frederick He said, You just say your name and your bar number, and I m representing so and so. I didn t even know how to do that. I knew how to write and research and do that, but I didn t know how to enter my appearance on the record. It took a lot of training for me to learn how to be a lawyer. I knew how to think like a lawyer and research like a lawyer, but to be a lawyer, not so much. It took training. THOMPSON: I ll add a couple of points to that. DU s practical training is really outstanding. In addition to bringing in a lot of the best adjuncts or best practicing attorneys in different areas, they did have an outstanding clinic program where I was able to get my feet wet in litigating cases. One of my busiest weeks was 50 hours in the clinic, filing a lawsuit, answering, briefing, and so forth. It really was invaluable to my experience and growth as an attorney. I took a practicum as well from a former tough, seasoned New York litigator. He gave us this horror story as he introduced the class. He said, My first day on the job, big law firm, a partner slapped down a complaint on my desk and said, Answer this. And he left the office. And he realized he had no idea how to answer a complaint. You think, how is that possible? How can you go through three years of law school and not know how to do something? But, it is a definite reality. I m so glad I listened to him, and I took his course, because that was my very first assignment on the job. Someone gave me a complaint and said, Go answer this. I wrote my professor an saying, Thank you so much. It s really important to also have flexibility in what you want to do, because you never know what type of law you re going to practice. I agree that you should get a wide experience, because the kind of law you end up practicing might be nothing like what you would first envision. And, frankly, you make yourself more marketable being able to speak, at least intelligently, about various subject matters, even if that s not what you re hired to do. LAW WEEK: What emphasis are you all placing on being partner? FREDERICK: I think it would be difficult to work in a firm environment if you weren t aiming for partner, because the dedication it requires, the sacrifice really is working towards a goal. Partner is something that you definitely work for. You see that making partner starts a whole new level of challenges and expectations. So it s not an easier road. But it s kind of a culmination of the hard work you put in. Even though I ve only been at Davis Graham for about two years now, I feel that I leave a part of myself there, that I ve given a part of myself to the firm. So the opportunity to become part owner or to be invested in this firm that I ve already given so much of myself to is important as far as validating or valuing what you ve done. JOYCE: I have the good fortune to work at a firm that won t hire you as an associate unless they expect and anticipate you becoming a partner at the firm. I think that s probably an increasingly rare business model. After they tell you that expectation, they really focus on investing in you, and how they can help you become a fantastic lawyer in the field that you choose. They do a really good job of allowing me, as an associate, to explore the different fields and take a test drive in transaction law or take a test drive in commercial litigation or natural resources. And so I haven t really thought about the whole partner track since I started there, because I ve been so enveloped in what I m doing and getting into what I m doing. From a partner s perspective, that s the point. They want you to be focused on being a good lawyer and not just showing them that you re there all of the time. They want you to be as invested in them as they are in you.
6 I would anticipate around, your fourth, fifth, or sixth year, you start thinking about that as a goal. But, for me, the career goal right now is to learn as much as I can and make sure that it s something I really want to be invested in, because as soon as you find that, I think that s really where your career takes off. ELLSWORTH: I ve tried to not build up partnership for a couple of reasons. One is it s good to have goals, but I think if you make partner your goal, then you re setting yourself up for some sort of monumental disappointment. Law firms, more and more frequently, are going to the tiered partnership. So even though you re a partner in name, maybe it isn t what you expect to be in terms of a partner. And you still have all of these new headaches that you have to deal with, plus the old headaches that you were dealing with. The only thing you don t have to worry about is am I going to make partner this year. So I ve always just tried to take the approach like Heather has, treat it like the billable hour. You know, it s going to work itself out if you re focused on giving good work to your clients, you re focused on meeting your clients needs, you keep busy, and you re generally just trying to do a good job and learn and give good customer service. If you do that, your billable hours will just end up working themselves out. And after the right amount of time, the partnership thing will either work itself out or it won t, but at least you will have developed the right relationships. THOMPSON: I completely agree that your expectation and goal should be to make partner, and that is quite likely the reason that you re getting hired. At the same time, what does partnership mean to you? Because if that s the only way you define success, I think that it s very difficult to control something that is in the hands of other people. So you should focus on things that you can control, such as getting the most practical experience you can. In my field, one of the ways to do that is having a very active pro bono practice. You get to meet really wonderful people and make, sometimes, pivotal differences in their lives. It s very fulfilling and rewarding, and it balances out some of the paperwork and long hours as you burn the candle at both ends. That s what marketing is about, too, starting to build the relationships around the community and having a great attitude about the whole thing makes a big difference. RUTTEN: I feel like my firm invested in me, too, when they decided to extend me an offer to come on the team as an attorney. I also feel like I have left a part of myself at the firm when I leave at night. I feel completely invested in what I am doing. I don t go to work every day and think Am I going to make partner today or are they going to offer it to me tomorrow or the next week or the week after that? That isn t really what my goal is. I go to work every day because I believe in the philosophy at Donelson Ciancio & Goodwin, I love the people I work with, I love my clients, I love my practice area. I m there because I want to be successful, and I want to show the people that I work with that I m invested in the firm, and I m there to do a good job. I just think that will come back to me. If it means me being managing partner at some point or a partner, then that s awesome, and I am happy to excel in my position. And I do hope, at some point, I get there, but it isn t something that I dwell on every day. And I haven t really heard other people at my firm talk a whole lot about it, because I think they share the same thoughts about it that I do. They are not there to make partner. They are there to do a good job and prove themselves. There s a sense of appreciation for having the opportunity to work there. LAW WEEK: Imagine yourself in a room with Denver managing partners. What advice would you have for them with regard to the practice of law, the business of the practice of law? FREDERICK: When I came out of law school, I started at a somewhat different time, because the economy was booming. It came to a point where I could walk across the street, get the same job, do the same thing, and get paid several tens of thousands more. And the reason I didn t was because I liked where I was, because I believed in where I was. I see that same idea at Davis Graham. Now, lawyers seem to be more and more transient, switching firms, and going different places. And I think you need to make the associates really feel that they are a part of the firm, that they are a part of something bigger than a business, that this is more than just a job. By doing that, you need to develop relationships between the other associates, between the associates and the partners and really, somewhat, brand the firm in the way where the associate doesn t want to leave, because they don t want to leave what they have created. Please don t be afraid to be creative in the way you manage the firm, in the way you work with associates and in the way that you think about the business. Matt Ellsworth There are lots of firms that do great work, but what makes the difference is the people. I m lucky to have found that. But it s important, and sometimes overlooked, that the importance of making associates really understand why they are there. ELLSWORTH: That s right on, but I was thinking of something different when you asked that question. I would want to say please don t be afraid to be creative in the way you manage the firm, in the way you work with associates and in the way that you think about the business. We were talking earlier about how hard it is to work under the pressure of a billable hour not just a billable hour, but a billable six minute increment. And our firm has taken steps to, maybe, get away from that to some extent by working flat fee type deals, being creative in the way that they approach projects with their clients, working with them. That has made it a lot more fulfilling. In a down economy or even in an up economy, the firms and the companies that are most creative and most willing, perhaps, to try something that is not the way we ve done this for a hundred years might be those that benefit most. I think the first movers in creativity might be the ones that benefit most. JOYCE: I was thinking along the same lines, although he put it, perhaps, much more eloquently. The only thing I would add to that is make sure to communicate that struggle and that internal dialogue with your associates and with everyone in your firm, because the more people you have on a problem, the more solutions you can find to that problem. And although an associate might not have a lot of legal experience, they might have tons of business experience, or they might have just a different perspective of how to approach a problem. And that s really how we solve problems. That s what lawyers do. RUTTEN: I think it s creating that team oriented atmosphere where everybody feels like there s comradery, where there s an open door policy. If I need to go to an associate, like you were saying earlier, someone would cover for me in a heartbeat. If I have a question, my partner s door is always open. The senior managing partner of our firm, Steve Donelson, always says If you re unhappy, then come and tell me. I ll help you find somewhere else to go, because you shouldn t come to work and feel unhappy every day. It s so nice to know that even if you decided this isn t really for me anymore, and I want to go try something different, then we have to support the people around us to go, and they are going to help us. So that s my advice. That s how a managing partner should be. THOMPSON: I ll say the managing partners that I know are tremendous people and outstanding lawyers and do a fantastic job in managing the practice of law through one of the most difficult periods in our profession s history since the great depression. And it s a very difficult and challenging environment. And it s dynamic, constantly evolving, both from client demand as well as through recruiting. The law firms that are represented here seem to have done a very good job of taking that in and making the adjustments necessary to be successful.